Recently a client asked me to do a sample edit and quote to copyedit his MS, which is a biography of his late grandfather’s career (and exploits) as a senior police officer early last century. When I did a short sample edit (4 pages), I realised there were some pretty major issues with his writing and the structure. So I sent it back with my comments and we discussed doing an MA, which I did. Now he’s working on sections of his MS and then sending them to me (he has poor health so we are doing it in stages). It’s a collaborative effort and we’re enjoying working on it together. If you have a client who is open to working with their editor, their book can become something they are really proud of, and it’s equally satisfying for the editor.
#1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Anybody can call themselves an editor these days, but even if they have the right skills, it doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job. I’ve heard too many horror stories of editors who ghosted clients or provided shoddy work, leaving writers out of pocket with no recourse for a refund. We have one of the best refund policies in the industry and take personal responsibility for every project, which means – if clients aren’t happy with the work, we’ll do everything in our power to fix it.
Great article, Blake. I often receive ‘undercooked’ manuscripts from writers. Two other points come to mind: 1) Budgeting for an editor is important. You should start putting some money aside for editing fees whilst you’re still writing your first draft (preferably tuck it into an interest-earning account!). 2) Don’t leave it too late, either. Often writers don’t realise that editors are booked up several months in advance. Start contacting editors whilst you’re still at the self-editing stage or have your MS with beta-readers, to find out what their availability is.
Attention to detail is a critical skill for editors. So how do you screen out editors who might not wield a virtual red pen with the chops to catch every typo, grammar problem, style issue, and the like? You could post a job ad for an editor and subtly screen out applicants that aren’t as detail-oriented by including some fine print in the description.
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
Start with a google search and see what comes up. Click on a handful of options and see if you can find an editor who is specialized or who has edited books similar to your own. An easy way to do this is to open just a few of your favorites in tabs and check out each editors’ website and about me section. Take a look at their testimonials. See if any stand out to you.
The other thing I really like is your breakdown of the types of editing available. That’s what I find needs to be explained the most. Especially in business editing, you get scenarios when someone thinks a document needs “a proofread”, when it really needs a copy edit or even a heavy line edit, and you have to justify the cost or the time it takes to complete it.
I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.
I implemented this way of working years ago and see how empowering it is for authors, and helpful for editors to boot. This doesn’t mean you’re asking your editor to do a free sample edit. (I discourage editors from doing this and caution authors who push for it as asking editors to work for free before you hire them may result in resentment.) Paying an editor for a few hours of their time to ascertain whether they’re a good fit for you is a great way to put your toe in the pond before submerging yourself. You can then see for yourself if the editor’s suggestions and comments resonate before moving forward with the whole project.
Due to popular demand, we’re adding a low-cost manuscript review + passive developmental edit to help you find and fix the “cause of death” before you invest in editing or proofreading. You’ll get expert eyes on your manuscript, and while we won’t focus on or fix every little issue, we’ll help you identify the big red flags that are killing your book slowly. These are the places readers will give up and agents will ditch your manuscript into the slush pile. In-depth comments and suggestions will be provided to help you clarify and restructure your book, but this feedback is “hands-off”: we won’t go in and actually make changes, though we will point out signs of weak writing, repetition, and provide tips on how to improve as a writer. If you think your manuscript might be a mess, or you want to focus on the large, important stuff that matters most, this is for you.
About 25% of my (fiction) editing work is direct with authors, and the rest is split between two publishers. It my be of interest to note that these rates are close to what publishers pay their editors. That is to say, if you, as an author, were to traditionally publish your book, you would be paying this amount via royalties. Creating a professional product via self-publishing is not cheap, the costs (and income!) just shift from the publisher to the author.
As a freelance editor, I would like to express my strong disagreement with the idea that a freelance editor must work as an employee of a publisher for three years to be any good. In my field, spirituality, many publishers have gone to having most editorial tasks beyond acquisitions performed by freelancers, so the in-house positions being held out here as a prerequisite for freelancing simply don’t exist; many editors must cut our teeth as freelancers. It also occurs to me that self-published authors usually bristle at the idea that they are not “real” authors unless their work is accepted by a commercial publishing house. Is it fair to apply this standard to the people they propose to employ as editors?
Although many writers talk about having friends, family, and old college professors help them edit their work, that’s really not the ideal way to go about the editing process for a book or short story that you plan to publish. A professional editor with years of experience and training in your market or genre can provide valuable feedback and advice that goes far beyond simply correcting spelling errors, typos, grammatical errors and usage errors.
Regarding your last question, I know of no editor who gives a money-back guarantee for occasional errors that happen to slip through or for a different opinion by a later editor. I’m afraid such things are just the nature of the publishing beast. But by having a shorter portion edited first, you will get a decent feel for whether someone is the right editor for you, and will be able to be confident in his or her work on your entire book.